Designing your home preschool environment can be both exciting and overwhelming. As you start to plan, your use of space and materials will likely depend on the educational philosophy of your school.
For example, if your program is Waldorf-based, you may use all-natural felt dolls. If you plan to run a Montessori child care or preschool, you may have specialized Montessori materials and self-corrective toys. Or you might use a mixture of philosophies and your environment design will reflect that.
But no matter what, you’ll want to include some basic interest areas in your home preschool.
I was lucky enough to chat with our Bay Area teacher mentor, Terei Baker, on how she advises Wonderschool directors when designing their home environments.
Here are the four basic preschool home environment interest areas Terei recommends including to get you started in planning your space:
1. Block construction corner
Terei recommends designing a block construction corner for children to create and build during play. She says it’s a good idea to keep this area away from the majority of foot traffic and other quieter activities because it can be quite active.
Shelving and storage is important in the block corner; don’t just throw everything in a bin. Instead, use a sectioned storage unit to organize the blocks and keep them visible.
Here are some ideas of what can go in this area of the room:
A set of wooden unit blocks
Cars and trucks
Railroad tracks and trains
Toy animals. You could include dinosaurs one week, farm animals the next, and so on. Including these helps the kids expand into their creativity.
2. Dramatic/symbolic play corner
The dramatic/symbolic play area of the learning space includes items like toy kitchens, dolls, and play food for children to engage with. This area includes anything that gets the children out and symbolizing what they’re seeing in the world. Terei recommends putting this area near the block construction corner because sometimes equipment can be shared between the two.
For organization, you don’t need a big shelf here necessarily. You could use baskets to separate out toy food, clothing, kitchen items, etc. Helping children learn to clean up and organize the toys themselves will create a sense of ownership.
Some more ideas of what you can put in this area:
Play stove, refrigerator, and/or kitchen sink
Dolls and doll accessories
Small table and chairs
Dishes and play food so they can cook and make meals
Dress up clothes for both boys and girls. You can buy or borrow these.
A basket of shoes and/or hats
3. Manipulative corner
The manipulative corner is used for activities that help develop fine motor control, such as puzzles or Legos. If the home can only fit one table, this is usually where it goes so children can sit down while they play. This table can also be used for meals. However, if the kitchen is big enough, Terei recommends serving meals in there.
For storage, the toys in this section usually have their own shelf or section of a shelf and are in baskets or bins. Puzzles can be stacked up on a shelf or in a puzzle folder.
Some ideas of items for the manipulative corner include:
4. Child sanctuary/literacy library
Lastly, it’s important to include a space in the learning environment that allows children to take time on their own, away from others, while still being supervised. For older children (ages 3-5), this could be a “literacy library” and writing center with paper, pens, pencils, and so on. For toddlers and infants, it can be a “cozy corner”.
Terei recommends getting a crib-sized mattress and covering it with a soft blanket and pillows. If a child needs to retreat, he or she can go here. Just be sure to keep the area big enough for you to get inside and sit with a child or two. If you keep a small couch in the room for yourself, the cozy corner can be in this area.
Items in the literacy library may include:
Paper, pens, pencils, stamps, like a mini office
Bin of books. (This doesn’t mean you don’t have books somewhere else in the room.)
Other spaces in your in-home preschool
If you have more room when designing your in-home learning environment, you can also include an area for arts and crafts and one for science to complete your learning environment.
Outside of the learning environment, you will also want to plan for a parent area, cubby area, and diaper changing area (if you care for infants and toddlers in your program).